The Clinic

by Eileen Baland

At 3:45 p.m. I spell out my name to the woman

in the glass box
She repeats the letters after me
I begin again
and she repeats “L-E-A-N-E”?

“Right,” I answer
and walk away to find a seat past the screaming toddler
who stiffens up her arms and legs
and is clenching her fists
while the young mother with the pained face
sticks a rubber nipple in the child’s gaping mouth
There is an empty seat next to a teenage girl
who is cooing at the tiny infant on her lap
The infant coos back and spits on himself
with a smile of satisfaction

It is 5 p.m.
It is 8 p.m.

A woman strolls in guiding a frail-limbed boy before her
She seats him on my right and goes to the window
to have her name misspelled
The boy’s hands are twisted and stiff
They reach for a heavy magazine, but then retreat, empty
He says “Excuse me” without looking up

And while the toddler screams, and the infant drools
and the limb-boy sits quietly beside me
staring at nothing
The nurses slide and squeak around the room
passing out blank histories
Children become luggage, tossed onto the floor
While mothers become biographers, filling in the blanks

It is midnight

It is tomorrow

A door swings open and out falls an elderly woman
shouting a name like an obscenity
The mothers glance toward the door in hopeless expectation
While the children are lost in Legos and nursery rhymes
The teenage girl stands up, throws her drooling infant
under her arm
and his eyes cross and roll back in his head

The magazine resting on my knee is open
to the advertisement for the U.S. Paper Company
where James Dickey is spewing the rewards of poetry
and describing a marsh
I think about the tiny anonymous insects there
who are born, reproduce, and die
without the benefit of miraculous healing
I think about the limb-boy sitting next to me
waiting to die from some rare disease
while Sally Struthers pleads his case
on late night TV commercials

It is Wednesday

It is Thursday

The elderly woman tumbles through the door
shouting a familiar mispronunciation of my name
for all to hear
I decide not to correct her, and slowly rise
leaving the limb-boy behind

In the cubicle, the nurse greets me with
“Hello Miss Baland. Strip from the waist down.”
She pokes a thermometer under my tongue
and scribbles something on a plain brown folder
I climb onto the table, and cover my legs
with a sheet of white paper
“Lay down, feet in the stirrups,” she snaps
and marches out, slamming the door behind her

I stare at the tiny holes in the ceiling panels
and imagine they are stars in the night sky
and I am one of James Dickey’s marsh insects
covered with thick leaves, invisible to predators
I think about the man in sheep’s clothing
who stalks the hallway with his sterilized weapons
poking his nose through doors
crushing leaves under his feet
and smiling when he finds his prey
I squeeze my eyes shut,

hoping he won’t see me
lying here with my knees in the air
like a sacrificial offering.

Previously published in Espejo

Dr. Eileen Baland teaches English Literature and Composition for Indiana Wesleyan University and Eastfield College. She holds a doctorate in Poetry and Biography (University of Texas at Dallas), MLA in Creative Non-fiction (Southern Methodist University),  BA in Poetry (SMU), and will receive the MFA in Poetry from Spalding University in Kentucky in May 2015. Her poetry has appeared in The Penwood Review, Poetry Magazine, Muse Apprentice Guild, and Espejo Magazine. She is a recipient of the National Tom Howard Poetry Prize, Writers’ Digest awards, and awards from the SMU Literary Festival, Mesquite Literary Festival, and Richland College Literary Festival.


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